They started back in the spring. Texts, emails and the odd phone call with people asking, "What's going on at Gainesville?"
And those were just to this author. So imagine what the last few months have been like for members of the Red Elephants' administrative structure who have dealt with 10 coaching changes since the the start of 2018.
As a longtime prep sports power in northeast Georgia, Gainesville's fortunes -- good and bad -- are scrutinized by fans across the area, not just those dyed red and white. And when that many changes occur that quickly, you can bet that northeast Georgia took notice.
Gainesville Athletic Director Adam Lindsey knows it well.
For months now, Lindsey has faced the questions and concerns from within his own fanbase and booster clubs and also heard it from outsiders across the area and state. Yet despite some difficult moments, some hard searches and plenty of dilligence, Lindsey believes Red Elephants athletics is far removed from a crisis, despite so many changes -- including in football, baseball and both basketball programs.
In fact, the Gainesville AD, only his in his second year in the position himself, sees an incredibly bright future for Gainesville -- and much of that due to the changes now under way at the school.
"I'm ecstatic about the direction we're headed right now," Lindsey said. "Of the coaches we've hired over this year there's not one that's a weak link. They're all going to push in the same direction. We're in the midst of a culture change right now, but we've got so many people that are energized and fired up about being here and doing things the right way."
Lindsey is also quick to point out that does not mean Gainesville encouraged all these changes -- far from it. In fact, the Red Elephants put together a strong overall athletic department in 2017-18, as Gainesville finished atop the Region 8-6A standings and played for a state title in boys basketball, reached the state semifinals in boys soccer and finished third in state in boys golf.
Two of the three coaches that led those teams are no longer in charge, however, and neither are coaches that led state playoff teams in baseball, girls basketball, football and girls soccer. There have also been coaching changes in fastpitch softball, swimming, wrestling and cross country (NOTE: For a full list of changes, see below). And, of course, the question everyone asks is why?
"Each coach that left had their own individual story," Lindsey said. "It wasn't like they all got together and decided to go. And none of the changes reflected on me, (relatively new Gainesville City Schools Superintendent) Dr. Jeremy Williams or (Gainesville High Principal) Tom Smith -- in fact they have all been very supportive. This was not what I was expecting to be doing in my second year, and it certainly has been difficult.
"But I understood each situation. I sat down with each one of the coaches and talked with them about their decision and saw exactly why they wanted to do what they did. That said, unless you're opening a brand new school this was unlike anything else you'll ever experience as an AD. And when you open a new school you have more time to make hires and you're building your own tradition. Here we have 126 years of tradition that have come before, and we want to live up to that and put Gainesville in the best position it can be in. That includes setting the right culture and doing things the right way. Sure, we want to win. But we also want to be represented the right way, and that's what we're focusing on right now."
With that in mind, Gainesville focused on hiring coaches with a specific mindset.
"These days you've got to be like a CEO and have the right assistants in place, because head coaches have to focus on the entirety of the program," Lindsey said.
That includes those programs below the varsity level -- all the way down to the middle school.
"We have to focus on our feeder programs in the middle school and ensuring that the kids we have at that level feel a part of things and are coached in the right way so that when they get to the varsity level they are set up for success -- not just on the field but off it as well. It's all about developing the kids," Lindsey said. "So all of our coaches are working hard to try and integrate our feeder programs into the entire system. In fact all of our middle school coaches are now considered assistants to the head coach."
It is a policy that Gainesville hopes will help overcome some of the unique challenges it faces as the largest high school northeast of Gwinnett County.
"We have around 25 percent participation in varsity sports right now; in most schools it's 35-40 percent," Lindsey said. "To have the success we've had is a credit to the kids we have that play mulitple sports and the coaches that have led them. But I'd love to get to 30-35 percent, and I think that's attainable. This school has grown so much over the past few years; it's almost doubled in size over the last 10 years. And playing in 6A is nothing like it was when Gainesville was dominating 3A [the Red Elephants moved from Class 3A to 5A in 2012 and then to 6A in 2016-17]."
The new coaches in charge of Red Elephants athletics are charged with doing just that. Yet with all the change, Lindsey cautions against unrealistic expectations.
"We're in a rebuilding phase at the moment; we're overturning every rock within this athletic department and looking for the ways to change everything for the better," Lindsey said. "We can't just focus on winning at the varsity level; it has to be a program-wide process."
Following a turbulent few years for Gainesville City Schools, which has seen changes at the very top (Dr. Williams took over following a three-year stint from Wanda Creel; Smith is on his way out as principal following a three-year stint, to be replaced by Jaime P. Green; and Lindsey is only completing his second year after replacing Billy Kirk -- who entered a strained situation following the ouster of longtime and popular AD Wayne Vickery in 2015) the new hires within individual sports programs could be seen as the next step in the progression.
However it may be framed, Lindsey is just looking forward to some stability.
"There's been a lot of great coaches here working very hard, but due to the turnover in leadership, it's made it harder for them," Lindsey said. "There's been a lack of consistency and a singular voice and vision. We hope we have that now."
Lindsey is encouraged by what he's seen so far from his new hires -- and their reception by the community.
"I feel like now that people are getting to see these coaches and what they bring they're more supportive than ever," Lindsey said. "People are seeing the positive things these new coaches are doing, the vision they have and the energy they bring. And the kids they coach are going home excited.
"Of course we're in the honeymoon period now; all of our coaches are undefeated. The real challenge comes when the games start. But we've just got to keep our heads down and keep going. Our job is to build strong young men and women. Do that and the rest will take care of itself."
2018 GAINESVILLE HIGH COACHING CHANGES
Listed are: previous coach, (where they are now)►new coach (where came from)
- Baseball: Jeremy Kemp (Cherokee Bluff)►Adam Miller (promoted assistant)
- Boys Basketball: Benjie Wood (Cherokee Bluff)►Chuck Graham (promoted assistant)
- Girls Basketball: Brenda Hill-Gilmore (Monroe Area)►Alan Griffin (White County High AD)
- Cross Country: Adam Miller (Baseball only now)►Richard Corbett (promoted from middle school program)
- Football: Bruce Miller (retired from GHS, now assistant at Lakeview)►Heath Webb (Winder-Barrow)
- Boys Golf: Bryson Worley (director of golf for UNG)►Clay McDonald named GHS director of golf, another boys coach TBA (was GHS girls coach)
- Girls Soccer: Shelley Garner (Stepped down from coaching, still at school)►Rick Howard (promoted assistant who once ran program)
- Softball: David Hawkins (Flowery Branch) ►Katie Jo Gentry (Stephens County)
- Swimming: John Price (stepped down from head coach role)►Kenneth Basinger (promoted assistant)
- Wrestling: Shane Millwood (Cherokee Bluff)►Blake Palmer (North Forsyth assistant)